Part-Time Looks Fine To Working Mothers

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By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007

new majority of working moms in the United States would be happiest in part-time jobs, with fewer seeing full-time work as an ideal, according to a study released today.

In a notable shift during the past decade, working mothers overwhelmingly view fewer work hours as the best option for their busy lives with young children. The proportion of mothers who feel that way jumped 12 percentage points since 1997.

Now, 60 percent of employed mothers find part-time work most appealing. But just 24 percent of them actually have part-time hours, labor statistics show, and mothers working part time have not increased in number in the last decade.

"What we're seeing is the expression of an ideal: to be able to do both of these things . . . to be employed and to be mothers in a very involved way," said Anita Garey, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut who has studied women's work and family lives.

The report, by the nonprofit Pew Research Center, reflects what some experts see as a convergence of trends in family life: workplace policies that have been slow to accommodate parents at a time when raising children has become a more intensive, involved enterprise.

This is also a new generation of working mothers, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research group based in New York, which she said reached conclusions similar to the Pew study -- and linked the change to the arrival of Generation X.

"We found that the younger people are more family-centric than boomers are," Galinsky said. "Most young people have seen someone lose their job, and they have lived through 9/11. It's not that they don't want to work. They just want to work more flexibly."

Rachel Schumacher, 36, of the District agrees that her generation is a factor. She feels lucky to have negotiated a part-time arrangement at the nonprofit organization where she is a policy analyst. This has meant some financial cutbacks and compromises.

"It lets me keep a hand in my career, and it allows me to be home more with my son, who is my priority," she said.

Schumacher's mother worked full time, without such an option, she said. A generation later, "we have the luxury of making these choices because of all the blood, sweat and tears our mothers put in," she said.

The Pew study of mothers showed that the appeal of part-time work crossed income and education divides.

One big change of mind-set was found among unmarried mothers. A decade ago, 49 percent preferred full-time hours; now, 26 percent do. A plurality of unmarried mothers, 46 percent, think part-time work is the best option.


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